buffalo field campaign yellowstone bison slaughter Buffalo Field Campaign
West Yellowstone, Montana
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State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park-
December 20, 2000 (PDF- 75 pages 808KB)

The Interagency Bison Management Plan for the state of Montana and Yellowstone National Park was initiated in 2000. Its official purpose is to “maintain a wild, free-ranging population of bison and address the risk of brucellosis transmission” to livestock. Montana Representative Dennis Rehberg recently defended the plan, calling it “ten years worth of compromise, ten years worth of consensus.” (Billings Gazette 11/6/03) In truth, it’s only perpetuating “management by slaughter.”

In the past two decades, about 3,700 wild Yellowstone buffalo have been killed by state and federal agencies to keep them from accessing public land in Montana adjacent to the Park. Each winter, buffalo, like other wildlife, tend to move out of Yellowstone’s high country to lower habitat with better forage on National Forest land next to the Park. Unlike all other wildlife, however, buffalo are prevented from following their natural instincts. Montana has zero tolerance for wild buffalo. The Interagency Plan was touted, at least in part, as an accommodation for buffalo on critical public wildlife habitat adjoining the Park.

The plan offers agencies considerable discretion in their actions. It’s supposed to encourage “adaptive management” that will protect cattle and still “ensure the wild and free ranging nature of the bison herd.”

If dead buffalo are a measure of cattle protection, the plan is doing a great job. Since the plan was adopted three years ago, about 450 buffalo have been killed, keeping the slaughter very much on pace, in other words. Hundreds more are hazed and harassed. These actions cost taxpayers millions of dollars, bring strife to gateway communities like West Yellowstone and Gardiner, and shame to the Park Service and Montana, but livestock interests have certainly been safeguarded.

In March 2003, when buffalo neared or crossed the north boundary of the Park, continued hazing was an option. In fact the plan specifically calls upon agencies to “maximize the use of hazing” to “minimize lethal control.” Instead the Park Service rounded up 231 buffalo, loaded them onto trucks, and shipped them off to slaughterhouses. That’s compromise? The action was also a direct contradiction to the plan, which envisions buffalo populations, like those of other wildlife, controlled by natural processes within the Park. Meanwhile we still don’t have a truly free-roaming population of buffalo, not even in America’s first national park, where crossing an invisible line means death. Contrary to rhetoric, with expediency rather than discretion the watchword, the way the plan is being implemented ensures that we don’t.
The Interagency Bison Management Plan is, in truth, a political “answer” ignoring underlying science and public opinion. Agencies wield power and clout, and in this case the Department of Agriculture, and particularly its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, forced a bad deal upon the National Park Service and the American public.

The Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act acknowledges the flaws of the current interagency plan and offers an alternative course. It calls for a moratorium on hazing and killing on public land adjacent to Yellowstone National Park until certain ethically and fiscally responsible steps are taken by federal agencies. The legislation recognizes that flexible management of only a few hundred cattle can eliminate all perceived conflict, saving taxpayers millions, creating a winning situation for all interests, and insuring that in one place in the United States we still have a truly wild, free roaming buffalo herd. Government's Bison Management Plan for the State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park Wastes Taxpayer Dollars and Threatens Last Wild Herd of Bison in the United States.

Key points about the Federal and State government's 15-year bison management plan:
* Taxpayers will foot the bill to the tune of $2.6 to $2.9 million a year for the next 15 years ($39 million to $43.5 million dollars or more over the life of the plan).
* The plan is designed to protect approximately 2,019 cow/calf pairs that graze on buffalo range on public and private lands within 10 miles of Yellowstone National Park. These cattle are present only when conditions permit, i.e. only for a few months out of the year because of Yellowstone's harsh winters.
* Yellowstone's wild bison herd is the only population that has continuously occupied their native range in the United States.
* The plan does not reach solutions, but only manages the 'problem'.
* The plan will remove bison that carry a natural genetic trait that resists brucellosis infection. The gene is called NRAMP1 (natural resistance associated macrophage protein1). The government admits not knowing how this genetic trait is expressed in the Yellowstone bison herd or how their management activities will affect brucellosis infection in bison.
* The National Park Service will attempt to prevent and disrupt bison migration to winter range by 'hazing' bison inside Yellowstone Park.
* Female bison will be hazed, captured and tested for brucellosis. Females that will be released are affixed with vaginal and radio telemetry devices to track bison births or abortions.
* Intensive management activities such as hazing, capturing, slaughtering and quarantining bison disrupts wildlife and wildlife habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Elk, moose, antelope, bald eagles, grey wolves, grizzly bears, trumpeter swans and other native wildlife will experience stress, dispersal and dislocation under the government's plan.
* The operation of the Stephens Creek bison capture facility is one factor that could lead to the likely extinction of Yellowstone's pronghorn antelope population (Goodman 1996).
* 5,174 bison will be 'removed' to slaughter or sent to quarantine over the next 15 years. Bison are a key preferred food source for threatened grizzly bears in Yellowstone. The continuing decline of whitebark pine nuts and fewer bison available under this plan casts doubt on the recovery of Yellowstone's threatened grizzly bears.
* Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers and Buffalo Field Campaign have documented illegal impacts by the Montana Department of Livestock to threatened bald eagle nests on Horse Butte Peninsula, on the Gallatin National Forest. The Gallatin National Forest issued a 10-year permit allowing the Montana Department of Livestock to operate a bison capture facility on Horse Butte within 1/2 mile of three bald eagle nests. The groups have videotape of incidents involving violation of permit conditions by the Montana Department of Livestock during bison 'hazing and capture' operations.
* The prevention of bison migration to their native range through ill-defined zone management areas, enforcement of so-called 'tolerance limits', operation of four bison capture facilities, hazing bison within and outside Yellowstone Park, shipping bison to slaughter or holding them in quarantine for years - negates the wild free ranging character that makes Yellowstone's bison unique.

Updated December 2003The Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act calls for a moratorium on the hazing and killing of wild buffalo on federal land in and around Yellowstone National Park and encourages flexible, common sense management options to eliminate perceived conflicts between buffalo and a small number of cattle that graze near the park. In addition to stopping the shameful slaughter of America’s only truly wild, genetically pure buffalo herd, it could save taxpayers considerable money.

Yellowstone buffalo are currently managed by federal and Montana agencies under the Interagency Bison Management Plan. The State of Montana’s Department of Livestock carries out the majority of the hazing and killing, aided by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Almost all money spent on Yellowstone buffalo management, including that expended by Montana agencies, comes from federal funding sources, primarily through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. That agency currently earmarks $9,000,000 toward national brucellosis control and eradication efforts on behalf of the livestock industry. A portion of this money funds all interagency Yellowstone buffalo “management.” Some expenditures like hazing, capture, and slaughter operations which include helicopters, snow machines, off-road vehicles, guns, and extra personnel are highly visible. Money is also channeled to brucellosis testing, capture facilities, fetal transmitter studies, funding the Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Committee, development of vaccines, and a host of other management endeavors which are less evident.

In FY 2002, the Montana Department of Livestock earmarked $887,311 for Yellowstone buffalo management. In FY 2003, the figure was $937,034. Again, all this money comes from federal sources. A complete breakdown of management expenditures is on the Department website at www.discoveringmontana.com/liv/animalhealth/bison/bison.asp.

The FY 2004 buffalo management outlay for the Montana Department of Livestock has not yet been determined. It will be considerably larger than last year’s, as the latest Agriculture appropriations bill included a special $750,000 appropriation for the Department of Livestock “for work on the Interagency Bison Management Plan.” That does not bode well for buffalo in the coming winter.

For FY 2002 and 2003, the Department of Interior budget earmarked $1,200,000 for buffalo management in Yellowstone National Park. According to the Department of Interior’s fiscal report, the appropriation for Yellowstone buffalo management remains at $1,200,000 annually, rolled into other regular appropriations (no longer a separate line item). A detailed breakdown of expenditures is not available.

Buffalo management related expenditure for the Gallatin National Forest include wildlife monitoring, permits related to hazing and capture operations, traffic control, etc. Expenses range from $100,000 to $150,000 annually. The money is appropriated from the overall budget at the Regional office level based on recommendations from the District Ranger. Law enforcement expenditures are shared between the general law enforcement budget for the Department of Agriculture and the Gallatin National Forest. Total law enforcement expenditures are not available.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks receives $75,000 annually from the Montana Department of Livestock for support of buffalo management operations.

Obtaining precise figures on expenditures toward Yellowstone buffalo “management” (i.e. keeping buffalo confined in the Park) is difficult due to the number of agencies involved and complexities of tracking their funding. In FY 2003, around $2,287,000 taxpayer dollars were spent. In FY 2004, with the special $750,000 appropriation the Montana Department of Livestock is receiving, it appears the figure will top $3,000,000. More of the same can be anticipated, year after year, under the current interagency plan.

The Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act would put a moratorium on all buffalo hazing, capture, and slaughter operations on federal land in and around Yellowstone National Park. This would free up monies now wasted by state and federal agencies carrying out “management by slaughter.” A portion of this savings could be used for common sense management initiatives – fencing, vaccinations, cattle pasture relocation – to eliminate perceived conflicts between wild buffalo and the few hundred cattle that may graze in proximity to Yellowstone. With accommodation measures instituted, management costs would drop dramatically. An endless cycle of needless slaughter, and taxpayer expenditures supporting it, would come to a halt.

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